Go to one of Madrid’s oldest cafés. La Mallorquina, right on the Puerta del Sol, is famed for its Napolitana – a pastry filled with chocolate or custard cream (€1.30). Just around the corner, El Riojano is packed to the ceilings with tempting sweet treats; it was opened by the pâtissier to the Queen in 1855. The little café at the back is a great spot for breakfast (around €4).
Now that you’re fuelled up, it’s time for a history lesson, well, a history wander. Madrid de los Austrias, named after the city’s Austrian rulers, refers to the oldest part of the centre and is a good place to take in some key sights. Start at the Plaza Mayor then walk down Calle Mayor taking in the Plaza de la Villa. Next, you’ll see the surprisingly recent build – the Almudena Cathedral, next door to the Royal Palace, the biggest by floor area in Europe.
End your walk at the Museo de San Isidro in La Latina, a great museum (and free of charge) that charts the history of Madrid using interactive exhibits.
Before lunch, grab an apéritif: one of the favourite tipples of Madrileños is vermouth, served on tap. Order a vermút de grifo (€3).
Do as the locals do and enjoy a menu del día, a fixed-price lunchtime menu, served on weekdays, that usually includes a starter, main course, dessert or coffee and a drink for around €10. Practically every restaurant does one, so where you go really depends on what you fancy. Vegan? Vega in Malasaña does a great menu del día for under €8.
Walk off some of that lunch in one of the city’s art museums. You’re spoilt for choice, but the key three are the Museo del Prado (€15), the Museo Reina Sofia (€10) and the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza (€12). Choosing a late-afternoon entry could mean you avoid the morning tour groups. If you’re looking to save, the Prado and Reina Sofia offer free admission during the last two hours before closing.
After soaking up some of Spain’s best art – and hitting the gift shop – go for a stroll around the nearby Retiro Park. Don’t miss the pretty lake, where you can rent a rowing boat (€6 on weekdays, €8 at weekends for the whole boat that sits around four people).
The rooftop bar on the top of the Círculo de Bellas Artes has some of the best panoramic views of the city. It is four euros to go up to the bar, and while drinks are definitely more expensive than in a regular bar, they’re not too overpriced. A beer or glass of wine will set you back around €4 (€12 for entry and a couple of drinks).
With your remaining €50, you can afford to go out on the town for a tapas crawl. One of the most famous streets is Cava Baja in La Latina, while Calle de las Huertas, in Barrio de Las Letras, is also a great nightlife hub.
Save your last few euros for an important Madrid tradition: late-night churros from Chocolatería San Ginés, a legendary café that has been serving piping hot chocolate and churros since 1894 and is now open 24-hours a day.
All the big museums offer free entry hours – check online to see when; it could save you a lot of money.
Do free stuff – there are lots of free things to do in Madrid, including free museums and exhibitions. Make sure to do some research before you go on what’s coming up.
Eat a menu del día for lunch – it’s a great deal.
If you know where to look, there are some great, cheap tapas options that you can try if you’re on a budget.